GB3 is the side project for Underground Lovers co-founder Glenn Bennie, and today he has released his latest album, Sakura Flower. Glenn has teamed up again with Steve Kilbey of The Church, who has added the lyrics and vocals to these beautifully crafted pop songs infused with sparkling rivulets of electronica. This is their second album together, following on from 2010’s Damaged/Controlled.
The album was recorded over a period of five years, between Sydney and Melbourne. It began in Glenn’s home studio, as he started to collate his ideas together: He describes the process: “The first stage of this album was in isolation (pre-lockdown)…experimenting with sounds, riffs and melodies. I was getting to know my new recording equipment and naively piecing together ideas. Through a process of editing and refining, and then through the contribution of Steve (and others), the songs took on new structures and meaning as each layer was added…I always wanted this album to have the feel and simplicity of a home recording. Every component was created in someone’s bedroom or spare room…from recording, to mixing, to mastering…it’s the way of the world now with recording I suppose but the similarities to my early development in recording to cassette tapes was a nice parallel that I used as inspiration. Steve’s own early solo recordings (especially Earthed) were a big influence on me too, with their DIY aesthetic’. “
Once the tracks started to take shape, Glenn brought in collaborators, with Maurice Argiro on bass (Underground Lovers), Lisa Gibbs (User) added the swirling synthesiser overdubs and Rowan Smith (MacGuffins) on drums.
The tracks were sent to Sydney in 2019, where Steve added his vocals, and Russell Kilbey engineered and added backing vocals.
Describing the album, Steve says “It sounds like Kraftwerk, colliding with The Church, colliding with Underground Lovers, colliding with New Order.”
There’s no doubt that this album is one of beauty. It’s an amalgam of two of Australia’s finest musicians, anyone who has witnessed the intensity and artistry of Glenn on guitar in Underground Lovers can testify to his bonafide status. Likewise, for fans of the Church and Steve’s many other side projects, his lyrics and vocals have a poignancy and warmth to them that touch the soul.
Sakura Flower is emotive and engrossing. Varied and captivating. From the dramatic and operatic “La Musica” to the instrumental “Synesthesia Reprise”, it’s an album to be savoured.
Anyway – take a listen for yourself. Then, read on, as Glenn has written for the AU, a track-by-track breakdown of Sakura Flower, featuring Steve Kilbey.
Sakura Flower from GB3 – Track by Track with Glenn Bennie
When I Come Calling
This track was created the same way I have written many songs over the years. Find a beat, add a riff, and then build from there. It all came together quite quickly with all the guitar parts being first takes. As I was recording, I had Jack Frost*’s ‘Every Hour God Sends’ in mind, with its motoric rhythm and the use of repetitive progressions and motifs. Maurice Argiro (Underground Lovers) added a cool counterpoint bass line, which Tim Whitten (mixer) emphasised with some fuzz in the mix. There were more instruments and backing vocals in the original recording, but Tim stripped it right back and built things gradually. This really helps give the end of the song more impact as the layers of guitars kick in. It’s a great opening track.
*Jack Frost were a short-term Australian rock band, a side project for Grant McLennan (of the Go-Betweens) and Steve Kilbey (of the Church). They released two albums, Jack Frost (1991) and Snow Job (1996).
Once again, the beat and basic chord progression drove the writing of this and then the various guitar and string lines helped emphasise the verse/chorus structure. This really has an Electronic (Sumner/Marr) feel which I love, but Steve takes it beyond that with his cutting and harsh multi-character approach to the lyrics. ‘Hey you. I don’t wanna play you. I don’t want to say your stupid name. I blame you for everything’. I really enjoyed creating my little guitar riff that floats through the track and it sounds like I’m channelling the XX a bit there.
In this song, I made an attempt to replicate the guitar filtering techniques used on previous GB3 tracks such ‘Famished’#, ‘Actress on a Mattress’#, Nothing in the way’#, ‘All for Love Reprise’#, ‘How do you Glow’^ (we’ve used it a lot!). This was a technique hit upon with Tim Prince in his I Sonic Institute studio back in the early 2000’s. You can hear it subtly throughout this song. I like the space in this track, particularly throughout the verses where the voice, bass and drums work tightly together. The reverb on the snare is a real highlight for me and there is plenty of space for it to wash over the track. The big snare is almost a bit 80’s, which is not a bad thing.
Note: from the GB3 albums:
# Emptiness is our Business released in 2006.
^ Damaged/Controlled released in 2010
This was one of my first attempts at laying down tracks when I bought some recording software in 2017. I didn’t bother to read the manual and just plugged my Roland TR606 drum machine in and put down a beat. You can still hear the 606 tinkering away in there. This was a simple idea with a verse chorus progression that was built around the opening bell riff (the first musical idea I had for the track). Maurice’s bass line really fills in the gaps and helps drive the song. I love the interplay between Steve and Russell Kilbey’s (Crystal Set) vocals, and I can picture them in a film clip, gliding down the street in time to the song. ‘We’re walking down Easy Street. See us reflected in your windows and your sunglasses’
One of the influences in the early creation of this song was ‘Tael of the Saeghors’ by Makers of the Dead Travel Fast (the reference is noticeable to me at least). We kept the music sparse so that Steve’s layered vocals could be the feature. ‘Like a message from space. Like a voice in a room. Like a drone of a beat. Like a note from Fortune’. To add tension in the track, Tim Whitten played with the delay on the drum machine to create feedback. I love it, and especially that sizzling feedback you hear just as the song is fading. We wanted this to be a mid-point in the album where things go a bit weird, just before it opens into the beauty of the title track. I almost think this is my favourite song on the album, as it references lots of music that I was listening to at the time of recording and a lot of local bands that got me into music as a teenager.
The title track was built around the guitar riff that starts the song. I layered instruments over the top and built it up to an emotional crescendo that you hear at the end of the track. The choruses of the song came later, and we cut those in to give it more of a traditional song structure. The use of the bells, which are then mimicked by the fuzz guitar, give it a childlike quality, and I always picture a kid’s choir singing those delayed fuzz guitar bits every time I hear it. Steve’s singing on this track is incredible, and when he first comes in after the long instrumental intro, it sends chills up my spine. ‘Hard, now I’ve gotta watch you fall…well, you’ve got grief beyond belief. I never wanted you to find me. I want to put it all behind me.’
I always like to have an instrumental somewhere on a GB3 album. This track grew out of an effort to have a different ending to track three, ‘Synesthesia’. The initial idea was to merge that song’s electro, spiritual vibe, into this little Neu influenced play out. It does work well in its own right though on the album, and acts as a bit of an interlude, or short breath, before the closing tracks. It also wakes you up from the melodramatic dream of ‘Sakura Flower’. There is a nice interplay between Lisa Gibbs’ keyboard parts. They sit together as harmonies in the pre-chorus section of track three, ‘Synesthesia’, but are separated out in the reprise to float beautifully over the track in a question-and-answer type scenario.
This is the Future Calling
This idea was built around the ambient, shoegaze effects that run atmospherically throughout the track. They create an ambient bed that compliments the chord progression and vocal structure. Steve’s effected vocals and the closing guitar lead break give it an almost glam feel, and it becomes some sort of T Rex, Bowie, Mick Jones (‘with your dollars and pounds’), MBV mash-up. As with track one, ‘When I Come Calling’, this song was built quickly, with each layer sitting easily on top of the other without too many re-takes. Maurice’s bass punches through and gives the song a rhythmic pulse that is mesmerising.
This is the perfect closing track for the album. The final thirty seconds to a minute of the track is how the song started its life, with a tremolo keyboard sound (recorded by my son Otis) that I wanted to build the song around. Tim Whitten uses the effect sparingly throughout the rest of the song though to help punctuate certain words and phrases. Vocally, this song has a beautiful and daring delivery from Steve. When I first heard the song with vocals, I said it was like Bowie meets the Beach Boys with a drum machine. Just brilliant! I love Steve’s line ‘the core, where the sadness is all stored’. That really hits home with me. I think it is an emotional song and a perfect end to an emotional album.
SAKURA FLOWER – GB3 ALBUM CREDITS
Instruments and production Glenn Bennie
Lyrics and vocals by Steve Kilbey
Additional backing vocals Russell Kilbey
Bass Guitar by Maurice Argiro
Keyboards Lisa Gibbs
Percussion Rowan Smith
Mixed by Tim Whitten (The Necks, Clouds, The Go-Betweens)
Header photo credit: Glenn Bennie by Stephen McKenzie, Steve Kilbey by Lisa Gibbs